Richland Marine Dies in Helicopter Crash - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Richland Marine Dies in Helicopter Crash

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Sgt. Travis Pfister of Richland, WA pictured in 2005 with wife Jessica (SOURCE:  Purple Foxes) Sgt. Travis Pfister of Richland, WA pictured in 2005 with wife Jessica (SOURCE: Purple Foxes)
FILE:  CH-46 Helicopter FILE: CH-46 Helicopter

A Richland Marine has died in Iraq. 27 year old Sgt. Travis Pfister was on board a helicopter that crashed in Northwest Baghdad.

All seven military personnel on board died. Pfister was a 1997 graduate of Hanford High School. The Richland family says they were notified today of their son's death.

Seven Killed in Iraq Helicopter Crash

Pfister was reportedly on a U.S. Marine transport helicopter thatrcrashed in flames Wednesday in a field northwest of Baghdad, killing all seven people aboard, the U.S. military said. It was the fifth U.S. aircraft lost in less than three weeks and the latest sign of growing problems with aviation in Iraq.

A U.S. military statement gave no reason for the crash of the CH-46 Sea Knight, which went down near Fallujah in Anbar province, about 20 miles from Baghdad. However, at the Pentagon, three Marine Corps officials said the troop-transport helicopter was in flames when it went down, with the pilot appearing to attempt a hasty landing but losing control as the aircraft descended.

They said witnesses in nearby Marine aircraft saw the flames but saw no sign that it involved hostile fire.

An Iraqi air force officer, however, said the helicopter was downed by an anti-aircraft missile. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.

An Iraqi farmer who lives about a half mile from the crash site said he heard a missile fired moments before the crash, which took place in an insurgent-infested region.

"The helicopter was flying and passed over us, then we heard the firing of a missile," the farmer, Mohammed al-Janabi, said. "The helicopter then turned into a ball of fire. It flew in a circle twice and then went down."

Associated Press Television video showed the flaming wreckage lying in a field in front of a cluster of mud homes. A dense plume of black smoke rose over the remains. The Marine officials suspected the fire was caused by a mechanical problem, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

In a statement posted on an extremist Web site, an al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State in Iraq, claimed it shot down the helicopter, which it described as a Chinook - an Army helicopter which resembles a Sea Knight.

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CH-46 Helicopter Criticzed

But critics have long urged the military to replace the CH-46, which was introduced in 1964 at the start of the Vietnam War. In 2001, retired Col. Frank Jensen wrote in Defense News that the Marines should replace the CH-46 but cannot because of budget limitations.

Regardless of the cause, the latest crash adds urgency to a U.S. military review of flight operations in Iraq, including whether insurgents have perfected skills in attacking U.S. planes.

The latest crash occurred five days after a U.S. Army Apache helicopter went down in a hail of gunfire north of Baghdad. Three other helicopters - two from the Army and one operated by an American security firm - also have crashed since Jan. 20. A total of 20 Americans were killed in those four crashes.

Sgt. Pfister a member of the "Purple Foxes"

Pfister was a member of the "Purples Foxes" air unit serving in Iraq.  According to a website maintained by family of unit members, as reported by one of the units members:

"The HMM-364 Purple Fox squadron is an Assault Support Air Casevac unit. That means when a solider or civilian becomes a casualty or injured they gear up and run to the helicopter. In less than 7 minutes they are in the air and usually at the scene within 20 minutes. 20 minutes can make a huge difference to a wounded solider. Unlike popularized Red Cross helicopters that land in safe areas to load the wounded, the Purple Foxes fly into zones regardless of enemy activity or threat. This has given them the reputation of "Give A Shit", as they do whatever it takes to save or support the troops. This support is 24/7 and is considered a "cannot fail" mission as the ground troops rely on the speed and fire support needed to tend to the wounded. Ground troops rely on the speed and air support of the Foxes to complete their jobs."